Rabbit and squirrel hunting seasons begin August 31, and outlook for hunting both species is positive based on population surveys and availability of food sources.
Based on the DNR’s recently completed August roadside survey of upland game, southern Iowa has the best rabbit densities heading into fall, but hunters statewide should see better cottontail numbers compared to last year.
The survey showed numbers increased significantly with the south central, southeast, and east central regions reporting the best densities.
The most effective techniques for pursuing rabbits are stomping brush piles, walking slowly through abandoned farmsteads or along brushy fencerows, or wooded draws with one or more beagles.
Beagles and other trailing dogs can increase hunter success and improve the quality of the hunt.
The cottontail season remains open until February 28, the daily bag limit is 10, and the possession limit is 20. Shooting hours are from sunrise to sunset. Hunters can view the roadside counts of cottontails in early September on the DNR’s website at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey
Iowa’s squirrel numbers should be above average this year for most of the state, based on oak and hickory mast production.
Squirrel numbers are hard to estimate because the DNR does not survey the population, but the DNR does monitor mast production of several hardwood trees and squirrel populations typically peak following good mast years.
Last fall there was an excellent crop for oaks in central, north-central and southeast Iowa, but a poor crop in the rest of the state. Hickory and walnuts were average across most of the state, which is a major food source for squirrels.
Fox squirrels can be found anywhere there are a few acres of trees, but gray squirrels are generally limited to the heavily forested areas in eastern and southern Iowa.
Squirrel hunting is done by either sitting-and-waiting, or by still-hunting.
The sit-and-wait technique is used near likely feeding areas, such as beneath oak, walnut, or hickory trees or along corn-forest edges.
The still-hunting technique is employed by slowly walking through forested areas and stopping frequently to watch for feeding squirrels.
The best hunting times usually are during the morning and afternoon feeding hours.
Hunting opportunities for squirrels are excellent because hunting pressure is low. Last fall, an estimated 21,698 squirrel hunters harvested 158, 615 squirrels, compared to 1960 when Iowa had 150,000 squirrel hunters and a harvested more than 1 million squirrels.
The squirrel season runs through January 31. The daily bag limit is 6 (fox and gray squirrels combined) and the possession limit is 12. There are no restrictions on shooting hours.